American red snapper can thank Tropical Storm Colin for preventing a bunch of them from getting sore mouths. Rain and squalls kept anglers from getting out several days during the already abbreviated nine-day recreational open season ending tonight. Depths of 120-170 feet seemed most productive. Bonus bycatches included red and gag grouper and large mangrove snapper. There were also scattered catches of wahoo and blackfin tuna. With all the enthusiasm surrounding tarpon season, avoiding crowds has become more difficult. But it can be done. With the tarpon ganging up in the channel just north of Bean Point on Anna Maria Island, dozens of boats are jamming in to take advantage. If you're not comfortable playing "bumper boats," there are options. The many miles of gulf beaches between Sand Key in Clearwater and Longboat Key in Sarasota offer endless opportunities. This time of the season, schools of tarpon migrate up and down the beaches. Patiently presenting baits well ahead of the oncoming schools works best. Soon, the big schools will break up into smaller bunches, making them more difficult to detect. Pick a stretch of beach in a depth where you've seen rolling fish and anchor. Chumming heavily will often draw them to you, even if they're not "showing" well. Bays and backwaters attract large bunches of tarpon in their never-ending search for food and are less pressured. My favorite "honey holes" include Port Manatee, Terra Ceia Bay, the Manatee River, Gadsden Point, Rocky Point, Lizard Flats and anywhere else I find them.
Jay Mastry charters Jaybird out of St. Petersburg. Call (727) 321-2142.